Easter Homily of Bishop Perry

Bishop Joseph N. PerryDuring this Easter Season, take a moment to read or listen to the poignant sermon given by the Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry at the Easter Vigil 2017 at Chicago’s St. John Cantius Church.

“God wishes to get through to us with this feast of the resurrection.  Do we hear what He wishes to say?  The message is overwhelming.”

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It’s unfortunate that popular culture has reduced Easter to butterflies, colored eggs and bunny rabbits.  A powerful message has been sent by God to the human race this day and certain folks have hardly heard it.  To send a message of love to someone and receive no response can be painful.

We Christians climb to the rooftops this one day of the year to shout out to the world a fantastic piece of news: Our God in Jesus Christ is alive when evil men meant Him dead.  And we are now given the opportunity to ride on the coat-tails of his victory over sin and death.

Of course, our society has always been good at shutting-out religious feasts, depriving them of their rich messages and symbolism, turning holy days into something else, distracting us by all manner of secular accoutrements.  Decorations of this sort are charming and add to the sense of new life and cheerfulness the season of spring brings us, certainly. 

If you dye Easter eggs and have chocolate bunny rabbits and Easter baskets in your home these days I hope not far away too in your home is some tangible religious symbolism of this feast of feasts – the resurrection our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Religious symbols such as:

  • a copy of the scriptures opened to the resurrection passages of the Gospels next to a candle.
  • A prominent crucifix in the home draped in the white of the season is another. 
  • A family member reading a short passage of the Easter scriptures at the start of a meal together
  • The head of the household blessing the home with the Easter holy water with a short prayer… 

These are just a some of of the suggestions from our Catholic identity.

God wishes to get through to us with this feast of the resurrection.  Do we hear what He wishes to say?  The message is overwhelming.


Easter Cantius
Easter Vigil at St. John Cantius Church

I do not know what to say to people who want simple, quick, happy explanations of Easter as if it were some new kitchen appliance we just learned how to work.  I wonder then what such folks do with the raw, grey edges of their lives, the gaps between sense and senselessness in their life’s experience for which we grope for words.  The Easter message treats these kinds of experiences.

And, as well, I do not know what to say to people who have no time for Easter, who have lived just long enough to claim to know you cannot count on anything or anyone, who claim it is just a story or simply one day in early springtime to dress up and have a nice time and hope the sun will shine.

I am nervous around people who will show off their new clothes, eat good food, laugh and listen to music, watch a ball game, maybe even go out to the movies and never this day mention the name of Jesus Christ and what He went through for them these last several days.  Christians even, this day will dress up and have a good time on this day of the Lord and never make reference to the message of this feast! Apart from what we have turned Easter into, that first Easter, no doubt, saw dead palm branches left in the streets from the previous week to be trampled underfoot and saw blood spatter along the path to execution’s hill outside the city from Friday’s awful tragedy.

Is it really that easy to confine all living to this present moment and all suffering and dying to spooky oblivion.  How can anyone give themselves wholeheartedly to entertainment and eating and drinking acting as if Good Friday never happened, that someone didn’t die for you in the last 48 hours!

All I know is that Easter squeezes out of a very dark day.  What I believe and what I know about Easter is that there are no easy transformations. We do not become holy, loving, forgiving people in smooth, bloodless steps, without tears and some anxious moments, Gardens of Gethsemane and outright crucifixions for each and every one of us.  Shouldn’t we be articulating to one another how our individual agonies are fused with those of the Lord’s?  Can we not express our new found love for the Lord Christ in what He has done on our behalf?  Can we not die with Him so we may rise with Him to the fullness of Life?

We cannot think for one minute that Jesus walked through these last 48 hours like someone prancing through a field of flowers.  Remember, why he suffered and died:
After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God decided to revise the script and start all over with us.  He decided to send us His Son.  The Son submerged himself in our mess and it was our mess that killed Him.  We mishandled the Lord of life!

But, remarkably, marvelously, astoundingly, God the Father decided not to take vengeance on us for what we did to His Son. 

The price for redeeming the human race was too high for us to pay.  God the Father asked His Son to pay it.  Our sins, the betrayals of our promises and expectations, crimes against the human race, are costly.  And He bore the cost, voluntarily in our place.

In the celebrated Hollywood film, “Dead Man Walking,” a true story, a nun, Sister Helen Prejean, becomes the spiritual advisor of a man on death-row, convicted of murdering two teenage sweethearts.  It is his right by Louisiana law to have someone walk him to his death – coach him, counsel him, be with him, hold him by the hand till the very end.  Sister Helen did not ask for this role, but fell into it.

After meeting Matthew Poncelet, a man who was by no means unjustly convicted, who offers her nothing to like or feel sorry for about him, and then after meeting the families of the victims who cannot understand why she would comfort this man, Sister is found absolutely torn. There is nothing she can do.  She says: “There are some sorrows in life so deep only God can touch them.”

And yet, she resolves to stick by this condemned murderer.  She says to him: “The last look I want you to see before you die is the look of love.”  Poncelet wants to know why she’s doing all this.  Well, she’s a nun, then, “Because,” as Sister Helen says, “you are a son of God.”  “No one’s ever called me a son of God before,”  Poncelet says.  “It figures, I would have to die to find out I was loved.”

Sister Helen stands and watches through a glass partition as Poncelet is executed.  In the movie, Poncelet’s face, as he dies, is reflected against her face on the glass partition.  The last thing he sees is the compassionate look on the nuns’ face as he breathes his last … her face, or is it God’s face?

This festival day of the Resurrection we are reminded that we are sons and daughters of God, that regardless who we are or what we’ve done or have been, God loves us and wishes us to know this before we die.  Our greatest accomplishment with the spiritual life, friends, is the day we come to know this truth that God loves me.  Sad to say too many never come to know this truth before they depart this life.  How can we be so distracted as to not hear and feel the message of this feast?

God’s face is the face which will not approve all we have done wrong but will not look away from us either.  It is the face of Easter which cannot be boiled down to butterflies and chocolate rabbits, and marshmallow chickadees.  The truth behind this day of Easter cannot be so frivolous nor can this feast be explained in simple terms. Love is never explained in simple terms.

It is the face of Easter which scared the women at the tomb early this morning like a dead man walking; the face of Easter which exhausts both skepticism and pity by its indifference to both.  It is the face of Easter which looks at you and me.  It is the face of Easter that looks at our candidates for Baptism and Confirmation tonight, who are willing to become one with us around this altar, having found inspiration in the Jesus story and the Christian life.

It is the face of Easter which absorbs our dreams and nightmares, and gives credit to our pain, Easter, which has seen all our sorrows and all our joys and bestows infinite meaning upon them both.

Tonight’s holy rites remind us that we have a Savior and a Lord. We have someone who has saved our lives!  Let us give Christ fitting tribute in our words and gestures tonight. Take Church with you these Easter days. Take today’s scripture message back to your homes.  Let us bless each other, those we love, with the Good News we have heard tonight.

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